tv Tavis Smiley WHUT March 26, 2012 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with one of this country's leading astrophysicists, neil degrasse tyson. he served as director of the famed hayden planetarium. he is out with a book on our fascination with space called "space chronicles: facing the ultimate frontier". we are glad your joining us. a conversation with neil degrasse tyson coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like
you. thank you. tavis: neil degrasse tyson is one of the most visible and respected astrophysicists of our time, serving as director of the hayden planetarium. he is repressing the series "cosmos." he has a book, "space chronicles: facing the ultimate frontier". good to have you on the program. let me start by asking the obvious question, what is the ultimate frontier? >> it is space. space, the ultimate frontier.
when people thought of the frontier, it was where you were living and there was some edge beyond which no one had explored. and it took us -- a special kind of person, not everyone has the urge to do it, a special subset of the community that said, i want to know what is on the other side of the frontier. it could be the other side of a cliff face, a mountain, or a valley, a hill. some people go out and explore, not all come back. not all of them survive to come back. yet those who do survive and get to tell those stories, those adventures become epic stories in the culture of those who supported those acts of discovery. this has gone on in the history of our species ever since people left the cave. the final frontier now that all of earth as mapped is space, the ultimate frontier.
>> to what extent is manned exploration nothing of the past? >> a lot of people felt that way. people cite the rovers on mars. the website that tracks the rovers was heavily visited. people say it was the robotic exploration that people were excited about. i understand the feeling there. robots can do things humans cannot. they can survive harsh conditions, they can explore places you would never go. it never actually have to bring them back. they do not complain if they do not come back. there is no love ones that will miss them forever. there is a certain cost savings. it is a factor of 100 cost savings between sending humans and sending robot. the difference is, when you send people, no one has ever, for
example that i know of, named a high school after a robot. no one has built a statue to our robot. when you put this together and recognize if the humans are advancing a frontier, people do not pay attention to the robot. that is the difference here. we have evidence of this. in the 1960's, there were missions to the moon to photograph that surface. there were all manner of robotic missions on the moon. did you hear about them? did you hear anything about them? you might have found it on page 50 of your newspaper. we did hear about are the humans that were advancing a frontier. i claim that all these years we have been celebrating robots, it is because and i love celebrating robot, do not get me wrong, but it is because they human frontier was not advancing. for the last 30 years, as i said, we have been boldly going where hundreds have gone before. the low earth orbit mission of
the shuttle. the shuttle was brought into service to build the space and it is a remarkable piece of engineering. and so you draft in your attention. the press does not have enough, it cannot talk about it. the press cannot talk we are in a new place. here is a known frontier just revealed -- here is an unknown frontier just revealed. each mission was the same as the previous one. that is the important difference. tavis: it is fascinating to read this part of the board. tell me why should not believe that space exploration as we have known it, financed and led and supported and the cheerleader been the u.s. government, why should i believe that is going to continue?
if i followed this debate, you are closer to it than i am, it seems like other government services that are being privatized. it seems like that is happening to the space program. what we're going to see in the coming months and years is privatization. let me ask you a two-part question. am i right that space exploration is being privatized and the government is pulling back? am i right or wrong? if i am right, what does that mean for space exploration being privatized? >> you are right but not in the way you think. nasa has had a relationship with private industry from the beginning. more than two-thirds of all that nasa money they have received in their annual budget ends up in the hands of private corporations in service of the nasa missions. lem, thes -- take thae
lunar excursion module. that was manufactured at grummond. nasa has always had a deep and significant relationship with the space industry. that has always been there. what is new coming forth is the drive to get private enterprise to ship astronauts and cargo back and forth into low earth orbit. lower third -- or it is a couple of miles up. -- low earth orbit is a couple of miles up. that is not expiration. that was the abreu team effort that was once a frontier. we did not know that what was in orbit. can you swallow in zero gravity? what happens to your body? that was a mystery in the 1960's. low earth orbit, the risks are
mapped and understood. that is the natural progression of what a government project gets ceded to private enterprise. the voyages of columbus was funded by spain. he was one of the first european to cross the atlantic. was there is going to end? where are the trade winds? are there dangerous people were you land? what are the risks? all this get us map and assessed. are there riches there? this gives predetermined. columbus goes back and does this a few times and private enterprise comes in. think of the dutch east india and trading company. they were some of the first europeans across the atlantic. you look at the railroads which were asserted they blazed a
frontier. that was lois and clark. after the maps were made. after you find out which indians were hot style in which were not. -- hostile and which were not. only when the risks are assessed is when they come in behind and that is what is going on with low earth orbit. to a dance the frontier that is charged for you. tavis: how popular are these flights that americans are told they will be able to take into space? what is your sense of what a growth industry that might become? >> everyone has money for vacation time and look at what we spend too -- i get sick on the road coasters, people pay money for that kind of experience. say about money to go on a sub- orbital flight or any of these flights. the difference is and there is
delusional marketing here, not completely up front on its marketing. currently these joyrides are what we call sub-orbital. you go up and pass the thickest part of the atmosphere and in broad daylight, the stars come out, 60 miles. that is our functional threshold definition of space. these tourist companies are trying to take rockets up to that threshold and you make a nice arc and check out what is going on, you are weightless for a bit, then you come back. that is nothing would ever related to the speed and energy and technology and spacecraft you need to achieve orbit. when nasa says they're going into space, they do not mean up and back. they mean orbit. when you go into orbit, you're going 18,000 miles an hour sideways and you need huge rockets to do that. when you come back, you need
heat shields to keep you from vaporizing. the taurus and that is being discussed is not orbital. -- tourism and that is being discussed is not orbital. do not think that tomorrow we're going into orbit. it is a different enterprise. tavis: it does not seem to me that there is the enthusiasm, the excitement there was one kennedy gave his speech and put us on the path to put a man on the moon. i am wondering if every day people are getting a chance to save some money to do this might bring about a new level of enthusiasm. >> another way to do this, let's say it costs a million dollars. another way that people can participate in this is to buy a lottery ticket and the winner gets to take the ride. in that way, everyone is participating. everyone else helped to pay for your right. that is what happens in any
lottery. everyone pays for your win. that can drive an aspect of the space frontier but space tourism is a small part of it. what i have been trying to convey since the release of the book which was only a few days ago, is that space, whether you go for the adventure, whether you want to do it because we have great scientific discoveries that come our way, whether you do it because there is spin-off technology and i hope there is time to detail those. when you do it for those reasons, there is a bigger reason to do it. that is when a nation invests in a major frontier to a man's that frontier and in this case we're talking about space. tomorrow when you advance the frontier, you are doing something no one has done before. every time that happens, you have to innovate. you have to think in new ways that have not been thought before. you have to invent a new piece of hard work, a new concept, a
new law of physics. i knew the material, a new construction material to enable you to accomplish what it is you chose to reach for. i claim that if nasa doubles its budget, if we as a nation double the budget, it is half a penny on your tax dollar, that is not very much. take it to one penny. and then march becomes real. it becomes big. -- and then mars becomes real. it energizes the nation. we pick who will go. let's find a middle schoolers who we will preselect who will be the mercury seven. choose them. write about their lives, we will ask about them.
how are they doing? the nation participates in an epic of venture -- adventure. that shift is a cultural shift. in how the nation views itself, how the nation views its future. it is that cultural shift that will stimulate innovation across all sectors. that is what happened in the 1970's. no one was talking about jobs going overseas because we were innovating at a pace that jobs could not go how to do it yet. if they do not know how to do it, we keep all the jobs. here we are with a failing economy, jobs going overseas, and people only thinking about today. no one dreaming about tomorrow. you are old enough to remember the 1960's and 1970's. i think you're old enough. people -- how long did you have to wait before there would be a magazine article about the city of tomorrow?
the home of tomorrow? transportation of tomorrow? the world's fair was all about tomorrow. this is an attitude. this is a perspective that rose up out of a fertilized landscape, made rich from our efforts to go to the moon. the moon voyage was a logistically driven. no doubt about that. we were at war with the russians. let's not try to sweep that under the rug. that was real. but the payout was a strong, healthy, economically vibrant nation. we doubled nasa's budget, did not tell me you do not have the money for that. of course there is money. rearrange the shells that have the pockets of money beneath them. we have a three trillion dollar budget. you have 1% to go to space. you can galvanized the nation into one that dreams about tomorrow once again and so it is an investment in the future. tavis: we talked earlier about
the legacy of jfk. it makes perfect sense for me. assess what president obama is legacy will be helping us or not. make that jump from half of 1 cent to the full penny. >> it is natural to think we need the presidential leadership to make this happen and i am saying it is not about the president. it is about the motivation of the electorate to require it of the leader to make this happen. that is how i view it. >> somebody has to motivate him to do that. >> i am trying. what do you think i am trying? tavis: i did not mean it like that. our brother could use some help, that is what i am saying. >> here is the problem. when kennedy said posco to the month, we did not have a
vehicle that would not kill you. that was an audacious goal, to put forth in front of the american people. put aingrich said, let's colony on the moon, a lot of people said let's put gingrich on the moon. that is not more audacious then what kennedy said. with obama, we live in an era, and bush before him. they made promises that would have to be fulfilled by a president to be named later because the baseline of time was longer than their term in office and that worries me. obama has plans now. he wants to leapfrog the moon. let's set 10,000 people out of work force ready to create the ship who are ready to go. he said we have been to the
moon, let's go to mars. that is a longer baseline. we do not have the rocket. the budget has been reduced. let's do a background check on the technology we need and the rocket design. the budget will come back up presumably but that is from a president to be named later. he is talking about going in the 2030's. where is obama going to beat on 2035? that is -- he will be on the beaches. that is where i would be of i were him. we need ese directives that the president does not even matter. the other projects such as that, the interstate system. it does not matter what president we have. we have the roads. we love our cars. we have roads. it is a matter of who owns this adventure. is that we the people or some
leader who comes in and out? everyone is saying kennedy is a leader and he inspired us. we were at war. we remember his beautiful words, put a man on the moon and do it safely. not because we can do it safely but because it is hard. there are paragraphs that are battle cries against communism. he gave a speech if there is any indication on the impacts of man everywhere, we need to show the world a path of freedom over the path of tyranny. that was the kill the commies section of his speech. that was the driver that put this in context with the soviet union. i do not want to go to space because of war. if china said they want to put military bases on mars, we would be on mars in two years. that would be quick. i not want that to be the
reason. i am asserting that with nasa fully funded at this one penny on the dollar, the return on that investment becomes an economic investment. that is what it is. our future and economic stability. tavis: let's try to convince the american people the reason to do that would be these spinoff technologies. >> it is not only the spinoff, it is changing the culture of those, even if you do not become an engineer, you could be a poet, journalist, or a lawyer. your actions, who you vote for, what you value all become a participant in an innovation economy. right now we do not have an innovation economy. that said, let's talk about some nasa spinoffs. the miniaturization of electronics. someone had to have the idea. this radio that is a piece of furniture in my living room, 1- want to carry that in my pocket.
someone has to think that. no one at the time was. not -- nasa said we have to put electronics in space and it is costly in regard to fuel. remember the saturn 5 rocket? there is a heavy constipate launching things into orbit. it is $10,000 a pound. the boast was put forward to -- boost was to miniaturize them but not lose functionality. that started by the push by nasa. it became an entire industry of consumer products industry and now we are carrying the complete works of beethoven on the lapel pin, listening to a on headphones. another one, lasik surgery. nasa made it affordable and
accurate. affordable and accurate. that is important when your eyeballs are concerned and that came about from the docking mechanism between the space shuttle itself and the space station. accurate, affordable, with high precision. the laser guidance system made these lineup was applied to the surgery. that is why people today have accurate site with inexpensive fees, credit nasa. the grooves on pavement on turns, that was nasa. no one thought to do that before nasa thought to do it. with this landing of the space shuttle on a long runway. the space shuttle does not -- it can reverse its engines so it coast to a stop. you do not want it sliding down the runway. the other thing, the intracochlear device.
it links to the nerves inside your ear, developed by nasa. the water filtering systems, developed by nasa. there is no spigot you can tap that connects to the reservoir in space. you have to recycle. i guess you could try to get someone to invent a water filtering device on the open market. but the true motivation comes from the urge -- if i go to a classroom and say, i need a watering -- a water filtering system for your refrigeration or a space station that will orbit for year and i have to filter that, can you figure of this problem? which one of these problems will create the draw for my eighth graders when i say who will help me in front the future? it has to do with the space station and not i need a water filtering system for my refrigerator. that is what nasa brings about and when fully funded, i see no
reason to think all the trappings of the 1960's would not come back to us for the 20 20s. tavis: all we have to do is go from half of 1 cent to 1 cent. >> some people say we should spend this down here. we are spending money down here. i did my homework. look at the federal budget, how much money are we spending on social programs and education? two elements that are contrasted with the money we spend on nasa. add that up. i did that. it is 50 times what we spend on assets. what are you asking? do you want to have that money to the rest of the social programs, up by 2%? that is not going to work. if you have problems in your social programs, it is not because you're missing 2% of the money. you have to rethink it. this argument that somehow we cannot afford nasa, the real
argument is we cannot afford to not afford nasa. that is where it sits. tavis: the most important question i have not asked yet, i saw you on tv the other night. i was waiting for your tie to take off. what are you working on tonight? >> this has a little bit of everything on the univers on it. this is my favorite tie. after this, i am going out to eat dinner. if you spill spaghetti sauce, it becomes another nebula. tavis: good to have you on the program thanks. the new book, from neil degrasse tyson, "space chronicles: facing the ultimate frontier", and nobody gets me it as excited about space as neil does. that is our show for tonight. until next time, keep the faith.
>> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with a captain whose experiences are the basis for about. that is next time. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs.